March 15
Antiquing Bill Gates

A Paint Alchemy tutorial

by David Nagel
Senior Producer

We're going back a ways in this tutorial to a Photoshop filter introduced quite some time ago—Paint Alchemy from Xaos Tools. Great little filter for doing a broad range of projects way beyond what you can accomplish with Photoshop's built-in plugins and addressing the needs of a different audience from what the likes of Kai's Power Tools addresses. We'll focus in this tutorial on Paint Alchemy's Unrestored Oil Painting settings to try to get an antiqued look on a photograph—not just for an old photo effect, but for an old painting effect.

I've chosen as my subject one Messr. Bill Gates. You may have heard of him. I've selected him for no other reason than he happens to be in my mind of late as my Power Mac G4 does battle with his Proxy Server 2.0 in the office. (Yes, we have an NT server. It was there before I started. The proxy server is a recent addition thrown in to give the PC guys in the office some comic relief and to keep those Microsoft tech guys in business.)

The simple solution to antiquing an image is simply to use Paint Alchemy's default setting. But that doesn't give you an oil painting feel. It gives you the feel of a photograph that's been splattered with oil paint. On an actual scanned painting, the default setting looks great. But for a photograph of a person, we're going to have to do a little extra work.

The original P.R. mug shot of Bill Gates
The original mug shot with Paint Alchemy applied without doing anything else. These are not the default settings for Paint Alchemy, but they are the same settings used in the final image below.

We're going to add a few extra steps to the process. They don't take as long as, say, painting a portrait in oil and waiting for the natural antiquing process, but they do take time. I think this whole project takes about two hours to complete.

Preliminary steps
To get things rolling, double click on the background layer, and click O.K. when the dialog box pops up. This will give your layer transparency. Add another layer behind it, and fill it with a dark color. Now mask out your subject. I, being an eyeballer by nature, just use the eraser tool. It might not be the fanciest way to mask, but it gets the job done.

Now, you'll recall that the whole purpose of this effort was to impose a painterly feel on the photograph. No matter what filter you apply to the whole image, that's just not going to happen. You need to go in and take out some photographic details that you wouldn't find in an antique oil painting.

For me, this means simplifying the hair, getting rid of some highlights and smoothing out the fabric in the shirt. For the hair, I lassoed the general area and applied Palette Knife (stroke 3, detail 3, softness 4) and then added Accented Edges (edge width 1, brightness 36, smoothness 1). For the details in the face, I used the rubber stamp tool and the airbrush. This helped eliminate some of the studio lighting and reduce the photorealism of the image.

Step 1: Mask
Step 2: Palette Knife and Accented Edges
Step 3: Plastic Wrap

For the shirt, my unlikely choice was Plastic Wrap, which, when toned down, can give a more silky texture to the fabric (highlight 3, detail 15, smooth 7). Remember that you don't want to go crazy in reducing the photorealism of the image.

Adding painterly elements
Now we're going to want to start adding in some elements that you might find in an old painting but that you certainly won't see in some cheesy corporate photo. Probably most important are the lighting effects. I applied several of these to the image, including the Default setting, Blue Omni with some tweaking and Flashlight. They added some darkness to the picture, but not enough, so I went in with the Airbrush tool and darkened up the edges on the left to help fade the outline of the hair into the background.

For the background itself, I used Clouds and then applied a Flood Light effect. Keep in mind that whenever you use Paint Alchemy, the color of the background it critical because it usually sucks up colors from the image itself to create its effects. For my background, I selected a purplish violet and then applied Clouds (from the Render submenu).

Lighting effects help establish the mood. I wasn't happy entirely with the results on this image, so I went in with the Airbrush tool and did a little covering up.

As a last step before the final Paint Alchemy filter, I wanted to kill some more of the detail, so I flattened the image and applied Accented Edges to the entire picture (width 1, brightness 21, smoothness 1). That really helped to get rid of some of the photographic detail in the glasses and around the mouth and cheeks.

All these steps having been accomplished, I was ready to apply Unrestored Oil Painting to the image. One problem: I didn't like the way it looked. So I changed some of the default settings—actually all of the default settings—and wound up with an image I can actually enjoy looking at before yelling curses at it.

The actual Paint Alchemy settings I used are pretty complicated, but here they are.

  • Opacity: Image Lightness, 3, 0, 0
  • Size: Image Hue, 0, 99999, 22
  • Angle: Random Values, 0, 90,180
  • Color: From Image/From Image, 0, 100, 0
  • Coverage: 3473, 0, 0

And here's the result. The image on the left is the original. The image in the middle uses Paint Alchemy applied on the original image. The image on the right includes all the steps detailed above with the exact same Paint Alchemy settings as the middle image. The result is a picture that comes pretty close to capturing the feel of an old oil painting.

The original image
The image with Paint Alchemy but no preliminary image manipulation
The image after manipulation and Paint Alchemy applied. These are the exact same Paint Alchemy settings as those used in the picture in the center.


Post a message in the Creative Mac World Wide User Group!

For more tutorials, click on the images below.


Are YOU a Mac expert? Do you have some time saving, image building, knock your socks off tricks up your sleeve. Share them with the rest of the Mac community and be forever bathed in glory. But make it a quickie, you have 58 seconds, give or take a few minutes.
Send an amyl to [email protected]

Read Previous
58-Second Tutorials